IndieCade 2011: Skulls of the Shogun

We get our hands on Haunted Temple Studios' upcoming strategy game Skulls of the Shogun at IndieCade 2011, and chat with one of the developers, Ben Vance.


Indie developer Haunted Temple Studios is aiming to breathe some new life and accessibility to the turn-based strategy genre with its upcoming game, Skulls of the Shogun. At IndieCade 2011 last weekend, I had the opportunity to get my hands on the near-final build of the game and talk to Ben Vance of Buffalo Vision, who partnered with developers Borut Pfeifer (Plush Apocalypse Productions) and veteran of Sega of Japan and EA Los Angeles, Jake Kazdal, to form Haunted Temple Studios.

About the Game: Skulls of the Shogun is a competitive turn-based strategy game for up to four players that pits rival armies of undead samurai against one another. The goal of the game is simple: harvest resources and defeat the Shogun of your rivals by using different unit-types and abilities. As you can see for yourself in the trailer below, Skulls of the Shogun utilizes a vibrant color palette and cartoon-like art-style to display its characters and battlefields.

Impressions: Once I started playing, what first struck me was that the flow of the game's action feels much more arcade-like than the deliberate pacing of more traditional tile-based strategy games. In fact, rather than having players move within a grid, selecting a unit in Skulls of the Shogun reveals a circumference indicating how far the unit can move and attack.

Players can also "haunt" certain structures on the battlefield, and harvest resources (in this case, rice) to summon more units, if a Summoning Shrine has been possessed. Temple structures can also be haunted, allowing a player to summon an "animal monk," each of which has a special ability like healing (the Fox) or fire magic (the Salamander). Eating the skull of a fallen enemy (one of my favorite twists) gives a unit extra health, or, in the case of the monk, an extra spell. The most important unit type in each army is the titular Shogun, who spends the opening rounds asleep, gaining health. Once awakened, Shogun become powerful forces that can attack twice per turn.

A basic physics system also allows players to bump other units out of the way (unless the other player has "locked" them together), push them back with attacks, or even knock them off precipices to their doom. The application of these systems is particularly inspired, in that it adds immediacy to the action, and makes each 15-20 minute match fly by. The developers told me that they wanted each match to feel more like a sporting event than like a game of chess. For my money, they've succeeded, in that Skulls of the Shogun is paced so that it almost makes you forget that it's turn-based.

Skulls of the Shogun is expected to be available for Xbox Live Arcade, PC, and Windows Phone early next year. Below is my IndieCade 2011 interview with developer Ben Vance about the game's development and inspiration, courtesy of Shacknews' sister-site, Indie Games Channel.

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